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Shooting survivors flood Florida

capital, urge tighter gun controls


Students who survived the Flor-

ida school shooting prepared

to flood the Capitol Wednesday

pushing to ban the assault-style

rifle used to kill 17 people, vow-

ing to make changes in the No-

vember election if they can’t

persuade lawmakers to change

laws before their legislative ses-

sion ends.

About 100 Marjory Stoneman

Douglas High School students ar-

rived at a Tallahassee high school

to extended applause late Tues-

day after a 400-mile (640-kilo-

meter) trip on three buses. They

told the 500 students and parents

waiting for them that they are

fighting to protect all students.

“We’re what’s making the

change. We’re going to talk to

these politicians tomorrow.

We’re going to talk to them the

day after that. We’re going to

keep talking, we’re going to keep

pushing until something is done

because people are dying and

this can’t happen anymore,” said

Alfonso Calderon, a 16-year-old

junior. “You guys are what we’re

trying to protect.”

Despite their enthusiasm and

determination, the students and

their supporters aren’t likely to

get what they really want: a ban

on AR-15s and similar semi-auto-

matic rifles. Republican lawmak-

ers are talking more seriously

about some restrictions, but not

a total ban.

Instead, they’re discussing

treating assault-style rifles like

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School listen to a speaker at Leon High School instruct them on

how to speak with Florida state legislators about strengthening gun control laws, following last week’s mass

shooting on their campus, in Tallahassee, Florida, on Tuesday.

— Reuters

the one suspected gunman Niko-

las Cruz is accused of using in the

Valentine’s Day attack more like

handguns than long guns. That

could mean raising the minimum

age to purchase the weapon to

21, creating a waiting period and

making it more difficult for peo-

ple who exhibit signs of mental

illness from buying the weapon

even without a diagnosis.

Democrats attempted to get a

bill to ban assault rifles and large-

capacity magazines heard on the

House floor on Tuesday. Repub-

licans, who dominate the cham-

ber, easily dismissed it. Students

who were at the Capitol ahead

of their classmates who arrived

late Tuesday found Republicans

steered the conversation away

from gun restrictions.

Rachel Catania, 15, a sopho-

more at Stoneman Douglas High

School in Parkland said she got a

lot of non-answers from the poli-

ticians she spoke with Tuesday.

“I know it’s going to be hard,

but I know we can do it,” she said.

“We’re not going to be the school

that got shot, we’re going to be

the school that got shot and made

something happen. A change is

going to happen.”

The students on the seven-

hour bus ride checked their

phones, watching videos and

reading comments on social me-

dia about the shooting, some of

which accused them of being lib-

eral pawns.

As the grieving Florida stu-

dents demanded action on guns,

President Donald Trump on

Tuesday directed the Justice De-

partment to move to ban devices

like the rapid-fire bump stocks

used in last year’s Las Vegas

massacre. It was a small sign of

movement on the gun violence

issue that has long tied Washing-

ton in knots.

“We must do more to pro-

tect our children,” said Trump,

a strong and vocal supporter of

gun rights. He added that his ad-

ministration was working hard to

respond to the Florida rampage.

The students planned to hold

a rally on Wednesday to put more

pressure on the Legislature.

“I really think they are going

to hear us out,” said Chris Grady,

a high school senior aboard the


The Feb. 14 attack initially

appeared to overcome the re-

sistance of some in the state’s

political leadership, which has

rebuffed gun restrictions since

Republicans took control of both

the governor’s office and the Leg-

islature in 1999. However, many

members of the party still have

strong resistance to any gun-con-

trol measures.

— AP

US conservatives meet as Trump

faces pressure on multiple fronts



meddling, national mourning

for school shooting victims, the

chaotic state of Donald Trump’s

presidency: US political turbu-

lence forms a dramatic back-

drop as conservatives gather

near Washington beginning on

Wednesday for their often con-

troversial annual confab.

Thousands of Republican

activists, party heavyweights

and national politicians — not

to mention a scion of France’s

ultra-nationalist movement —

converge on a Maryland conven-

tion center to tout the health of

a populist revolution that rocked

American politics to its core in

2016 and ushered in the Trump


Thirteen months after the

brash billionaire entered the

White House, Trump is the fea-

tured speaker Friday at the Con-

servative Political Action Confer-


Religious conservative Vice

President Mike Pence addresses

CPAC the day before, as does

White House counsel Don Mc-

Gahn — an odd choice for the

high-profile event as he is under

scrutiny in a White House secu-

rity clearance scandal.

CPAC was “getting ready for

another exciting event. Big dif-

ference from those days when

President Obama held the White

House,” Trump tweeted Tuesday.

The newly inaugurated presi-

dent received a hero’s welcome

when he addressed the confer-

ence last February.

A year earlier Trump was

considered too controversial to

attend. But such has been the

rightward shift within the con-

servative movement that CPAC’s

organizers have invited French

US President Donald Trump speaks during the Public Safety Medal of

Valor Awards Ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Wash-

ington on Tuesday.


North Korea canceled meeting

with Pence at last minute: US


Vice Presi-

dent Mike Pence was all set to

hold a history-making meeting

with North Korean officials dur-

ing the Winter Olympics in South

Korea, but Kim Jong Un’s govern-

ment canceled at the last minute,

the Trump administration said on


A potential meeting between

Pence and the North Koreans had

been the most highly anticipated

moment of the vice president’s

visit to Pyeongchang, South Ko-

rea, where he led the US delega-

tion to the opening ceremonies.

Ahead of Pence’s visit, Trump of-

ficials had insisted they’d request-

ed no meeting with North Korea,

but notably left open the possibil-

ity one could occur.

There was no indication that a

meeting had indeed been planned

— and then canceled on short no-

tice — until Tuesday, more than a

week after Pence returned to the

United States. The State Depart-

ment said that Pence had been

“ready to take this opportunity”

but would have used it to insist

Pyongyang abandon its nuclear

weapons and ballistic missile pro-

grams. “At the last minute, DPRK

officials decided not to go forward

with the meeting,” said State De-

partment spokeswoman Heather

Nauert, using an acronym for the

North’s formal name, the Demo-

cratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“We regret their failure to seize

this opportunity.”

That seemed to contradict

North Korea’s own claim that

it had no interest in meeting

with Pence while he was in Py-

eongchang. “We have no intention

to meet with the US side during

the stay in South Korea,” a Foreign

Ministry official was quoted as

saying by the North’s official news

agency on Feb. 8, the day Pence

arrived in South Korea. “We are

not going to use such a sports fes-

tival as the Winter Olympics as a

political lever. There is no need to

do so.”


US Vice President Mike Pence, North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim

Yong Nam, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim

Yo Jong attend the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang,

South Korea, in this Feb. 9, 2018 file photo.


Australia PM

heads to US

for talks with

Trump and



Prime Minister

Malcolm Turnbull heads to the

United States on Wednesday, ac-

companied by the largest Austra-

lian political and business del-

egation ever to visit the US.

President Donald Trump’s

softening opposition to joining

the Trans-Pacific Partnership

will be up for discussion when

he meets Turnbull at the White

House on Friday. The trade deal

among 11 countries includes Aus-

tralia, which also has a bilateral

free trade partnership with the

United States.

Turnbull, a wealthy 63-year-

old former Goldman Sachs part-

ner, sees himself as having a lot

in common with Trump, as they

are both successful businessmen

who entered politics relatively

late in life.

Security risks in the Asia-Pa-

cific region created by a more as-

sertive China and North Korea’s

nuclear ambitions will also be on

the agenda.

Turnbull will be seeking a

clear picture from Trump on

how he expects the North Kore-

an crisis to unfold, said Kim Bea-

zley, a former Australian defense

minister who was ambassador to

Washington until 2016.

“Generally speaking, when an

Australian prime minister meets

an American president, the globe

is traversed, all sorts of things,

the commitments we have in

common, where we’re going to

go in Iraq and all the rest of it,”

Beazley told Australian Broad-

casting Corp.

“The difficulty facing Mr.

Turnbull is nobody can be abso-

lutely sure how the current presi-

dent engages on any of those

fronts,” Beazley added.

While in Washington, Turn-

bull will address the US National

Governors’ Association.

— AP

Heavy rain

sparks flood

warning in

US Midwest


Several states

could see severe flooding and

other weather-related problems

amid a storm system that has

brought rain, ice and snow to the

Midwest and Great Plains.

The weather already was

blamed for several fatalities, in-

cluding the deaths of four people

in a crash in Nebraska.

Melting snow and heavy rain

prompted the National Weather

Service to issue flood warnings

for parts of northern Illinois and

flood watches for central Illinois.

The fear of a rising Illinois

River forced the evacuation late

Tuesday of the LaSalle County

Nursing Home in Ottawa.

In the Chicago area, as much

as 4 inches (10 centimeters) of

rain fell overnight Monday into

Tuesday and forecasters expect-

ed another 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to

7.6 centimeters) by Tuesday eve-


Parts of Michigan’s Lower

Peninsula were seeing flooding

and road closures.

In Kalamazoo in southwest-

ern Michigan and the surround-

ing area, some roads were closed

on Tuesday due to high water.

— AP

Subdued birthday for ousted Zimbabwe President Mugabe



marked Robert Mugabe’s 94th

birthday on Wednesday with an

official day off, but without the

extravagant cakes and fawning

tributes that defined February 21

for much of his 37-year rule.

As president, Mugabe typi-

cally celebrated with a rambling

speech while wearing a suit deco-

rated with images of his own face

at a party that included a lavish


But following his ousting in

November after a brief military

takeover, this year’s festivities

were restrained.

Other than a solitary editorial

proclaiming the former head of

state’s big day in the government-

run Herald newspaper, there was

little in the way of official fanfare.

None of the ministries and

agencies that previously clam-

ored to mark the day even ac-

knowledged it this year, and the

flurry of tributes that filled news-

paper pullouts each year was also


While government offices and

schools were closed for the first

annual “Robert Mugabe National

Youth Day” — declared a week af-

ter his forced resignation on Nov.

21 — much civilian life continued

as normal.

“It’s a day we treasure and we

revere the former president,” Si-

mon Khaya Moyo, spokesman of

the ruling ZANU-PF party, told

local media.

“The party will send its best

wishes and a cake,” added Moyo,

whose party switched allegiances

from Mugabe to President Em-

merson Mnangagwa during last

year’s take-over.

Mugabe, whose authoritar-

ian rule drove Zimbabwe into

economic ruin, has not made any

public appearances following his

abrupt ousting.

But a close ally said that the

nonagenarian was in good health

and looking forward to his birth-

day. “He is well and resting and

ready to celebrate his birthday,”

said former central bank chief

Gideon Gono. “He is going about

his business and going to his farm,

contrary to what was being said.”

Gono said he had visited

Mugabe at his upmarket home in

Harare’s Borrowdale suburb over

the weekend.

Mugabe said: “it is not time to

speak to the press”, according to


Father Fidelis Mukonori, the

Jesuit priest who mediated the ne-

gotiations that persuaded Mugabe

to finally step down, said the for-

mer leader was “fine and fit”.

“He is still in his suits. He still

dresses well, looks smart,” he told

local media.

Mugabe had ruled Zimbabwe

since independence from Brit-

ish colonial rule in 1980 and his

birthday was declared a national

holiday on the recommendation


Among the excesses of

Mugabe’s previous celebrations

were vast birthday cakes — even

as food shortages affected mil-

lions of Zimbabweans.

The biggest cake each year

was said to weigh the same num-

ber of kilograms as Mugabe’s age.

It took several men to carry it into

the marquee.


Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe admires a cake made for his 93rd

birthday celebrations hosted at Rhodes Preparatory School in Matopos,

Matabeleland South Province, South Africa, in this Feb. 25, 2017 file



anti-immigrant champion Mari-

on Marechal-Le Pen, a hardliner

tipped as possible future leader

of France’s anti-immigrant Na-

tional Front (FN), to speak short-

ly after Pence.

The 27-year-old former mem-

ber of parliament, whose aunt,

FN leader Marine Le Pen, was

nearly endorsed by Trump last

year in France’s presidential race,

is to mark her return to the pub-

lic eye nine months after she said

she was withdrawing from poli-


The move triggered a fire-

storm on Twitter, with main-

stream Republican group The

Reagan Battalion blasting CPAC

for inviting “(Russian President

Vladimir) Putin apologist and

NATO hater” Le Pen.

The conference comes at a

time of heightened sensitivities

on multiple fronts, including ac-

cusations that Trump’s 2016 pres-

idential campaign was illegally

coordinating with Moscow.

Last Friday US special pros-

ecutor Robert Mueller unveiled

bombshell indictments against 13

Russians for allegedly running a

secret campaign to tilt the 2016

US election in Trump’s favor.

Trump repeatedly denies any

collusion with Russia. But four

Trump campaign officials have

been indicted as part of Muel-

ler’s broader investigation, and

attendees and speakers at CPAC

will be watched closely on the is-


They will also be faced with

the scourge of US gun violence,

after the latest in a string of dead-

ly school shootings prompted na-

tional soul searching.

Trump strongly backs the

constitutional right to bear arms.

But he recently expressed sup-

port for legislation that would

expand background checks for

gun purchases, and ban devices

which can turn legal semi-au-

tomatic weapons into machine